Bentley Motors recently debuted a new vehicle to the world – the highly anticipated next-generation Continental GT on its web site. An online debut was a marketing first for Bentley, and it was fittingly ground-breaking for the brand, as was the debut of the first GT in 2003.
When the first-generation Continental GT concept debuted at the Paris Auto Show in 2002, it catapulted the Bentley marque into a new stratosphere. For decades, Bentley and Rolls-Royce were one, until a split in 1998, when Bentley was bought by the VW Group. Determined to retain Bentley’s Britishness, sporting heritage, quality, craftsmanship and refinement, VW wisely left its newly acquired ultra-luxury brand to be autonomous – to do what it had always done best, and with an added bonus of financial support.
And so, in 2003, after years of Bentley having existed as a rebadged Rolls-Royce, Bentley emerged from the brand’s shadow with the new GT, a stunning car with performance to match, occupying a unique position within the market and and the renaissance of the Bentley brand. The GT’s muscular, sporty lines, the fast-back rear, the rounded headlights and pillar-less teardrop window made for an exquisitely sleek and timeless exterior. Inside, polished stainless steel, or “brightware” as Bentley calls it, complemented a leather-laden cabin. Seats enveloped its passengers with sporty, but never too tight bolsters, and true to the grand touring tradition, rear seats for two, with a generous trunk to stow enough luggage for a luxurious and comfortable cross-continent motoring tour.
The GT’s performance was sublime. The ride was smooth, yet connected to the road. The sound was intoxicating and distinctive. A turn of the knurled brightware key brought about a deep, smooth growl, which confirmed the aggressive exterior styling reflected what was within - a twin-turbo W12 engine that churned out 552hp and 479 lb-ft of torque. For those who had forgotten, or been unaware of, Bentley’s sporting history, with multiple wins at the world-famed Le Mans endurance races, the GT was a reminder of the thrill of driving a Bentley.
Over the years, Bentley went on to sell more than 22,000 Continental GTs. The celebrated Continental line grew to include the Flying Spur Sedan, the GTC convertible, and it transformed the Bentley brand, with world-wide sales increasing ten-fold in just five years. Of late, Bentley hasn’t been immune to the market’s decline and unpredictable economy, but the brand is committed to developing and delivering products with exceptional dynamics, luxury and refinement, and that captivate and delight its drivers. The craftsmen and women building Bentleys in the Crewe, UK factory realize they’re part of the magic – they’re not just building cars; Bentleys are works of art, and dreams realized.
The launch of the new Continental GT is the next phase in the brand’s renaissance. When current GT customers insisted Bentley retain the coupe’s now near-iconic classic design, Dirk van Braeckel and his Crewe-based design team improved upon its shape, while preserving the GT’s essence. With the use of superforming -- technology usually reserved for the aerospace industry -- they created sharper creases along the body panels. Bentley first employed superforming in its Mulsanne, and the result is a crispness that’s virtually impossible to achieve with normal pressing techniques, as well as fewer ‘shut lines,’ for a hewn-from-solid look. The GT’s matrix grill is more upright and it dips lower to complement the vehicle's lower, wider sporting presence. And the GT rolls on sporty 20-inch wheels or, a first, 21-inches for those adept at pothole-avoidance techniques.
Inside, the cabin feels roomier and more luxurious, with fluted leather seats, soft-to-touch leather surfaces. Bentley’s hallowed hides are sourced from bulls raised in Northern Europe, where cooler temperatures and fence-free pastures mean fewer blemishes from insect bites and barbed wire. One much appreciated upgrade in the new GT is an intuitive touch-screen multi-media interface that talks to a 30GB hard drive for lightning quick processing. The 8-inch screen displays the car’s audio system, telephone, ride and comfort settings and the very latest navigation system, which uses both an in-car hard-disc drive and a DVD player to access route data. The infotainment system, with zip-code entry, uses a combination of touch-screen controls and classic knurled rotary switches to offer instant usability and crystal-clear feedback. Take a closer look and notice that knurled switches on the screen are ‘virtual’ echoes of the knurled switches below, reminding reluctant Luddites of the cabin’s more tactile comforts.
Perhaps most importantly, or thrillingly, the powerplant – under the hood, or ‘bonnet,’ to the Brits, the new Continental GT features a twin-turbo W12 engine that cranks out 567 hp, 516 lb-ft of torque. As a reminder for auto aficionados, that’s more horsepower than the Aston Martin V12 Vanquish which clocks in at 520, and the Ferrari 612 Scagletti, with 540. The GT also features ‘Quick-shift’ technology, borrowed from its supercar stablemate, the Supersports. The all-wheel drive six-speed transmission sprints the GT from 0-60 mph in 4.4 seconds, a figure belying its 5115-lb curb weight.
In a time when conspicuous consumption is frowned upon, those seeking permission to indulge in the GT’s nimble and potent performance will find solace in knowing Bentley’s superlative stature extends to its environmental commitments. The brand has promised that, by the end of 2012, all its vehicles will run on Flexfuel. Pioneered in the Supersports, and now available in all current Continental models, the GT will run on E85, gasoline, or any mix of the two, without any compromise in performance. In addition to that, at the end of 2011, the new Continental GT will be offered with an all new high-output V8 variant, which honors Bentley’s environmental commitment to deliver a powertrain that achieved a 40 percent improvement in CO2 emissions.
With the new GT Bentley has delivered on the dream – a comfortable, luxurious, crisp and classically redesigned coupe with tremendous power and progressive environmental credentials. This fusion of environmental relevance, hand-crafted luxury and superlative performance is undeniable. And with the next-generation GT, Bentley’s renaissance continues.
For more information, please visit www.bentleymotors.com.